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3-19-13 Eudcation-related Issue in the News - Supreme Court Nominations...Or Not
Star Ledger - Democrats don't plan hearings on Christie's N.J. Supreme Court nominees for at least 8 months

The Record-column-Stile: Democrats unlikely to relent on Christie's choices for New Jersey Supreme Court

Star Ledger - Democrats don't plan hearings on Christie's N.J. Supreme Court nominees for at least 8 months

By Matt Friedman/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger, updated March 18, 2013 at 4:55 PM

TRENTON ó Senate Democrats donít plan hearings on Gov. Chris Christieís two nominees for the state Supreme Court until at least November, two senior Democrats with knowledge of the partyís thinking confirmed to the Star-Ledger.

But Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who makes the decision to post the nominees for a vote, today denied that he has made any decisions about the hearings.

ďIt didnít come from me," Sweeney said in the Senate chambers just after a voting session. ďIím the only one who can make that decision, and I have not made that decision. So to say itís November, January, June Ė whatever it is, that didnít come from me and I havenít relayed that to anyone.Ē

Sweeney earlier in the day did not return a phone call seeking comment.

After Democrats rejected his previous two nominees, Christie in December nominated Superior Court Judge David Bauman, a Republican, and Board of Public Utilities President Robert Hanna, an independent.

The news was first reported by The Recordís Charles Stile in a column on Sunday.

The Democrats who revealed the plans requested anonymity while discussing party strategy. Stile said that while Christie has hinted at campaigning on the issue, Democrats have calculated that it will not resonate with voters.

The stateís highest court has been a political flashpoint between Sweeney and Christie since the governor in 2010 declined to re-nominate Justice John Wallace, a Democrat.

Christie in 2009 campaigned on changing the make up of the state Supreme Court so he could work against longstanding precedents, especially on school funding and affordable housing.

Democrats are concerned about the partisan balance of the court, which currently has two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. Although she is not registered to a political party, Democrats consider Justice Jaynee LaVecchia a Republican because she worked in two previous Republican gubernatorial administrations. They have been pushing Christie to appoint a Democrat to preserve the partisan balance of the court.

The courtís partisan makeup played a large role in Democratsí rejection of Christieís two previous nominees, Phil Kwon and Bruce Harris. Harris, the mayor of Chatham Borough, is a Republican, and Democrats rejected him because they felt he was unqualified.. Christie contended Kwon was an independent, but Democrats disputed that because he had been registered to vote as a Republican recently in New York before dropping the affiliation when registering in New Jersey.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) said regardless of whether Sweeney waits until after the election to post the nominees for a vote, he's waited too long already.

"Steve is advocating his leadership responsibilities," Kean said

The Record -

The Record-column-Stile: Democrats unlikely to relent on Christie's choices for New Jersey Supreme Court

Governor Christieís latest nominees for the New Jersey Supreme Court could be in for a long, long wait.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney is not expected to schedule any confirmation hearings for the two candidates before the November election, high-ranking Democrats confirmed this week.

And some went even further, saying they see no real political incentive to hold hearings even after the election is over.

At stake could be some of the most socially and politically sensitive issues that have come before the court in years, from the legality of gay marriage to questions on affordable housing, from the extent of state aid to the poorest school districts to the reach of environmental regulations. Christie would like to overturn some of the landmark rulings issued by the court, which has been a bastion of judicial activism for decades. The Democrats want to protect those precedents.

And so the war of wills has begun. Unless the Republican Christie changes course and nominates someone else ó meaning someone from the Democratic Party ó it seems very unlikely that Sweeney and his colleagues will relent.

In other words, the Democrats are playing just about the only card they have. The question is: Who will blink first? Or if anyone will blink at all.

The consequences will almost certainly be profound.

Hereís how the thinking goes: Barring a stunning upset by Democratic Sen. Barbara Buono of Middlesex County in the governorís race this fall, the political landscape in New Jersey next year is probably going to remain what it is today. Christie is heavily favored to win reelection at the same time that Sweeney and his fellow Democrats are likely to retain control of the Senate.

That means Christie will face the same political barriers next year that have thwarted his campaign pledge to reshape the seven-member Supreme Court. And Sweeney will have little incentive to capitulate to a second-term governor who might leave town early to run for president in 2016. If Sweeney doesnít schedule a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, then the governorís nominees remain in limbo: No one can be confirmed unless the committee releases the names for a full Senate vote.

So itís a safe bet that senior appellate court judges will serve as stand-ins on the high court, as they do now, possibly for several more years.


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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